IEEE Bjarne Stroustrup C++ Interview
On the 1st of January, 1998, Bjarne Stroustrup gave an interview to the
IEEE's 'Computer' magazine. Naturally, the editors thought he would be giving a
retrospective view of seven years of object-oriented design, using the language
he created (C++).
By the end of the interview, the interviewer got more than he had bargained
for and, subsequently, the editor decided to suppress its contents, 'for the
good of the industry' but, as with many of these things, there was a leak.
Here is a complete transcript of what was was said, unedited, and
unrehearsed, so it isn't as neat as planned interviews. You will find it
Interviewer: Well, it's been a few years since you changed the world of
software design, how does it feel, looking back?
Actually, I was thinking about those days, just before you arrived. Do you
remember? Everyone was writing 'C' and, the trouble was, they were pretty damn
good at it. Universities got pretty good at teaching it, too. They were turning
out competent - I stress the word 'competent' - graduates at a phenomenal rate.
That's what caused the problem.
Stroustrup: Yes, problem. Remember when everyone wrote Cobol?
Interviewer: Of course, I did too
Stroustrup: Well, in the
beginning, these guys were like demi-gods. Their salaries were high, and they
were treated like royalty.
Interviewer: Those were the days, eh?
Stroustrup: Right. So what happened? IBM got sick of it, and invested
millions in training programmers, till they were a dime a dozen.
Interviewer: That's why I got out. Salaries dropped within a year, to
the point where being a journalist actually paid better.
Exactly. Well, the same happened with 'C' programmers.
see, but what's the point?
Stroustrup: Well, one day, when I was
sitting in my office, I thought of this little scheme, which would redress the
balance a little. I thought 'I wonder what would happen, if there were a
language so complicated, so difficult to learn, that nobody would ever be able
to swamp the market with programmers? Actually, I got some of the ideas from
X10, you know, X windows. That was such a bitch of a graphics system, that it
only just ran on those Sun 3/60 things. They had all the ingredients for what I
wanted. A really ridiculously complex syntax, obscure functions, and pseudo-OO
structure. Even now, nobody writes raw X-windows code. Motif is the only way to
go if you want to retain your sanity.
Interviewer: You're kidding...?
Stroustrup: Not a bit of it. In fact, there was another problem. Unix
was written in 'C', which meant that any 'C' programmer could very easily become
a systems programmer. Remember what a mainframe systems programmer used to earn?
Interviewer: You bet I do, that's what I used to do.
Stroustrup: OK, so this new language had to divorce itself from Unix,
by hiding all the system calls that bound the two together so nicely. This would
enable guys who only knew about DOS to earn a decent living too.
Interviewer: I don't believe you said that...
Well, it's been long enough, now, and I believe most people have figured out for
themselves that C++ is a waste of time but, I must say, it's taken them a lot
longer than I thought it would.
Interviewer: So how exactly did you
Stroustrup: It was only supposed to be a joke, I never thought
people would take the book seriously. Anyone with half a brain can see that
object-oriented programming is counter-intuitive, illogical and inefficient.
Stroustrup: And as for 're-useable
code' - when did you ever hear of a company re-using its code?
Interviewer: Well, never, actually, but...
There you are then. Mind you, a few tried, in the early days. There was this
Oregon company - Mentor Graphics, I think they were called - really caught a
cold trying to rewrite everything in C++ in about '90 or '91. I felt sorry for
them really, but I thought people would learn from their mistakes.
Interviewer: Obviously, they didn't?
Stroustrup: Not in
the slightest. Trouble is, most companies hush-up all their major blunders, and
explaining a $30 million loss to the shareholders would have been difficult.
Give them their due, though, they made it work in the end.
Interviewer: They did? Well, there you are then, it proves O-O works.
Stroustrup: Well, almost. The executable was so huge, it took five
minutes to load, on an HP workstation, with 128MB of RAM. Then it ran like
treacle. Actually, I thought this would be a major stumbling-block, and I'd get
found out within a week, but nobody cared. Sun and HP were only too glad to sell
enormously powerful boxes, with huge resources just to run trivial programs. You
know, when we had our first C++ compiler, at AT&T, I compiled 'Hello World',
and couldn't believe the size of the executable. 2.1MB
What? Well, compilers have come a long way, since then.
They have? Try it on the latest version of g++ - you won't get much change out
of half a megabyte. Also, there are several quite recent examples for you, from
all over the world. British Telecom had a major disaster on their hands but,
luckily, managed to scrap the whole thing and start again. They were luckier
than Australian Telecom. Now I hear that Siemens is building a dinosaur, and
getting more and more worried as the size of the hardware gets bigger, to
accommodate the executables. Isn't multiple inheritance a joy?
Interviewer: Yes, but C++ is basically a sound language.
Stroustrup: You really believe that, don't you? Have you ever sat
down and worked on a C++ project? Here's what happens: First, I've put in enough
pitfalls to make sure that only the most trivial projects will work first time.
Take operator overloading. At the end of the project, almost every module has
it, usually, because guys feel they really should do it, as it was in their
training course. The same operator then means something totally different in
every module. Try pulling that lot together, when you have a hundred or so
modules. And as for data hiding. God, I sometimes can't help laughing when I
hear about the problems companies have making their modules talk to each other.
I think the word 'synergistic' was specially invented to twist the knife in a
project manager's ribs.
Interviewer: I have to say, I'm beginning to
be quite appalled at all this. You say you did it to raise programmers'
salaries? That's obscene.
Stroustrup: Not really. Everyone has a
choice. I didn't expect the thing to get so much out of hand. Anyway, I
basically succeeded. C++ is dying off now, but programmers still get high
salaries - especially those poor devils who have to maintain all this crap. You
do realise, it's impossible to maintain a large C++ software module if you
didn't actually write it?
Interviewer: How come?
Stroustrup: You are out of touch, aren't you? Remember the typedef?
Interviewer: Yes, of course.
Stroustrup: Remember how long
it took to grope through the header files only to find that 'RoofRaised' was a
double precision number? Well, imagine how long it takes to find all the
implicit typedefs in all the Classes in a major project.
So how do you reckon you've succeeded?
Stroustrup: Remember the
length of the average-sized 'C' project? About 6 months. Not nearly long enough
for a guy with a wife and kids to earn enough to have a decent standard of
living. Take the same project, design it in C++ and what do you get? I'll tell
you. One to two years. Isn't that great? All that job security, just through one
mistake of judgement. And another thing. The universities haven't been teaching
'C' for such a long time, there's now a shortage of decent 'C' programmers.
Especially those who know anything about Unix systems programming. How many guys
would know what to do with 'malloc', when they've used 'new' all these years -
and never bothered to check the return code. In fact, most C++ programmers throw
away their return codes. Whatever happened to good ol' '-1'? At least you knew
you had an error, without bogging the thing down in all that 'throw' 'catch'
Interviewer: But, surely, inheritance does save a lot of
Stroustrup: Does it? Have you ever noticed the difference
between a 'C' project plan, and a C++ project plan? The planning stage for a C++
project is three times as long. Precisely to make sure that everything which
should be inherited is, and what shouldn't isn't. Then, they still get it wrong.
Whoever heard of memory leaks in a 'C' program? Now finding them is a major
industry. Most companies give up, and send the product out, knowing it leaks
like a sieve, simply to avoid the expense of tracking them all down.
Interviewer: There are tools...
Stroustrup: Most of which
were written in C++.
Interviewer: If we publish this, you'll probably
get lynched, you do realise that?
Stroustrup: I doubt it. As I said,
C++ is way past its peak now, and no company in its right mind would start a C++
project without a pilot trial. That should convince them that it's the road to
disaster. If not, they deserve all they get. You know, I tried to convince
Dennis Ritchie to rewrite Unix in C++.
Interviewer: Oh my God. What
did he say?
Stroustrup: Well, luckily, he has a good sense of humor.
I think both he and Brian figured out what I was doing, in the early days, but
never let on. He said he'd help me write a C++ version of DOS, if I was
Interviewer: Were you?
Stroustrup: Actually, I
did write DOS in C++, I'll give you a demo when we're through. I have it running
on a Sparc 20 in the computer room. Goes like a rocket on 4 CPU's, and only
takes up 70 megs of disk.
Interviewer: What's it like on a PC?
Stroustrup: Now you're kidding. Haven't you ever seen Windows '95? I
think of that as my biggest success. Nearly blew the game before I was ready,
Interviewer: You know, that idea of a Unix++ has really got
me thinking. Somewhere out there, there's a guy going to try it.
Stroustrup: Not after they read this interview.
Interviewer: I'm sorry, but I don't see us being able to publish any
Stroustrup: But it's the story of the century. I only want
to be remembered by my fellow programmers, for what I've done for them. You know
how much a C++ guy can get these days?
Interviewer: Last I heard, a
really top guy is worth $70 - $80 an hour.
Stroustrup: See? And I bet
he earns it. Keeping track of all the gotchas I put into C++ is no easy job.
And, as I said before, every C++ programmer feels bound by some mystic promise
to use every damn element of the language on every project. Actually, that
really annoys me sometimes, even though it serves my original purpose. I almost
like the language after all this time.
Interviewer: You mean you
Stroustrup: Hated it. It even looks clumsy, don't you
agree? But when the book royalties started to come in... well, you get the
Interviewer: Just a minute. What about references? You must
admit, you improved on 'C' pointers.
Stroustrup: Hmm. I've always
wondered about that. Originally, I thought I had. Then, one day I was discussing
this with a guy who'd written C++ from the beginning. He said he could never
remember whether his variables were referenced or dereferenced, so he always
used pointers. He said the little asterisk always reminded him.
Interviewer: Well, at this point, I usually say 'thank you very much'
but it hardly seems adequate.
Stroustrup: Promise me you'll publish
this. My conscience is getting the better of me these days.
Interviewer: I'll let you know, but I think I know what my editor
Stroustrup: Who'd believe it anyway? Although, can you send
me a copy of that tape?
Interviewer: I can do that.
Friday, 20-Aug-2010 02:41:50 EDT These pages were made by Justin R. Erenkrantz unless otherwise
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